Fatal Mistake (White Knights #1) by Susan Sleeman (audiobook) – Narrated by Rachel Dulude

This title may be downloaded from Audible.

An FBI agent must protect the woman who can identify a terrorist bomber in best-selling author Susan Sleeman’s riveting romantic suspense novel.

Each day could be her last…but not if he can help it.

Tara Parrish is the only person ever to survive an attack by the Lone Wolf bomber. Scared and emotionally scarred by her near death, she goes into hiding with only one plan – to stay alive for another day. She knows he’s coming after her, and if he finds her, he will finish what he started.

Agent Cal Riggins has had only one goal for the past six months – to save lives by ending the Lone Wolf’s bombing spree. To succeed, he needs the help of Tara Parrish, the one person who can lead them to the bomber. Cal puts his all into finding Tara, but once he locates her, he realizes if he can find her, the Lone Wolf can, too. He must protect Tara at all costs, and they’ll both need to resist the mutual attraction growing between them to focus on hunting down the bomber, because one wrong move could be fatal.

Rating: Narration – C : Content – D-

I wasn’t even fifteen minutes into Susan Sleeman’s romantic suspense novel, Fatal Mistake, when I realised I’d made a catastrophic mistake in deciding to listen to it. I’m a fan of the sub-genre and am always on the look-out for authors to add to my “must read/listen” list, but instead, I’ve found one to add to my “must avoid” list. The storyline is trite, predictable and filled with stereotypical characters, info dumps, hackneyed dialogue and more introspection and internal monologuing than one can shake a stick at. The principals seem to have aced “Jumping to Unfounded Conclusions 101”; there’s way too much telling and not enough showing, which means that characters make huge leaps of logic and arrive at conclusions for no reason that is made clear to the listener, and the author completely fails to create even the vaguest sense of sexual attraction between the principals. Reviews the novel are overwhelmingly positive, and the blurb promised a “riveting” read… but all I was riveted to was my watch as I kept checking to see how far I was from the end.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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Dead Girl Running (Cape Charade #1) by Christina Dodd


This title may be purchased from Amazon

I have three confessions to make:
1. I’ve got the scar of gunshot on my forehead.
2. I don’t remember an entire year of my life.
3. My name is Kellen Adams…and that’s half a lie.

Girl running…from a year she can’t remember, from a husband she prays is dead, from homelessness and fear. Tough, capable Kellen Adams takes a job as assistant manager of a remote vacation resort on the North Pacific Coast. There amid the towering storms and the lashing waves, she hopes to find sanctuary. But when she discovers a woman’s dead and mutilated body, she’s soon trying to keep her own secrets while investigating first one murder…then another.

Now every guest and employee is a suspect. Every friendly face a mask. Every kind word a lie. Kellen’s driven to defend her job, her friends and the place she’s come to call home. Yet she wonders–with the scar of a gunshot on her forehead and amnesia that leaves her unsure of her own past–could the killer be staring her in the face?

Rating: D+

I enjoy a good mystery or romantic suspense novel and have been lucky enough to find some fantastically good authors in the genre who are now on my ‘must read’ list.  I’m always on the look-out for the next addition, so I eagerly picked up Christina Dodd’s Dead Girl Running, the first book in her new Cape Charade series, hoping for an intense, exciting and complex read – aaaaaand, well, let’s just say I don’t think I’ll be adding Ms. Dodd to that list of ‘must read’ authors on the strength of it.  The book turned out to contain a myriad of hackneyed tropes and plot points (and plot holes) that made it seem as though the author had too many ideas and, instead of undertaking some judicious pruning and concentrating on the one or two strongest ones, decided to throw everything at the wall and see what stuck.  What we end up with is a classic ‘base-under-siege’ type plot, a too-good-to-be-true, dull heroine, a lot (dare I say – too many) of barely two-dimensional, stereotypical secondary characters, and writing so clichéd in places that it made me wince – or laugh, which I’m sure wasn’t Ms. Dodd’s intention.

Kellen Adams was a captain in the army and served in Afghanistan before returning to the US.  She has recently taken up a position as assistant manager at the Cape Charade resort in coastal Washington state and is determined to make it her home.  When the resort owners – the elderly Leo and Annie di Luca – decide to take a holiday for the first time in ages, they leave Kellen in charge, confident in her ability to keep things running smoothly.  It’s a quiet time of year, there are not many guests booked in, so it’s just a case of keeping things ticking over until the di Lucas return.  That is, until some decomposing human remains are discovered on the grounds, which are identified as belonging to the previous assistant manager, Priscilla Carter, who disappeared without explanation less than six months earlier.  It’s impossible to keep something like that a secret from the staff and guests, and the atmosphere at the resort becomes one of fear and suspicion; everyone is a suspect and Kellen isn’t sure who she can trust.

We learn early on that Kellen isn’t actually who she says she is; she’s an abused wife whose husband tried to murder her (and died in the attempt), and who is still looking over her shoulder for any sign that her his family might be catching up with her.  She’s also the survivor of a gunshot to the head – something I found hard to credit – which caused her to lose a year of her life; she was in a coma for all that time, and after waking up confused and fearful, ran from the hospital and to an army recruiting office. We’re asked to believe the shot to the head is the reason she now has a unique mental ability to acquire, store, process and recall information, but I’m still wondering how it didn’t simply blow her brains out…  Whatever the case, having both incredibly traumatic and dramatic events happen to the same person seemed to me to be taking things a bit too far. I understand that this is the first book in a series, but in spite of all the things that have happened to her, Kellen is not a well-defined or interesting character, and I couldn’t warm to her or find anything to draw me in.

The same is true of the secondary characters, of whom there are a lot; they’re poorly defined and stereotypical, and there’s no time for the author to flesh any of them out or give them actual personalities. We’ve got a former movie star, an upbeat, preppy personal trainer of the type you want to strangle, a bitchy hostess who is bitter that she was passed over for Kellen’s job, an enigmatic (though hot) guest who says he’s an author (he isn’t) and a handful of Kellen’s army buddies now employed at the resort – and that’s less than half the list.  There has to be a fairly large pool of suspects to make the identity of the villain hard to guess, but given that there are no clues pointing to that person, I can’t see there was much of a point. In any case, the reveal comes out of the blue, but not after Kellen jumps to a completely wrong conclusion as to his identity so fast it made me wonder if I’d skipped a few pages.

The mystery plot, concerning the smuggling of valuable artefacts off the coast near the resort is interesting, and when the book concentrates solely on this aspect of the story, it’s a good read and I was eager to keep turning the pages.  But that doesn’t really happen until well into the second half of the book, and doesn’t last for long; after that, we’re back in the land of the clichéd and utterly ridiculous, which then culminates in a completely unbelievable plot twist that contradicts something explicitly stated earlier on in the book.

I’m not sure whether to categorise Dead Girl Running as ‘mystery’ or ‘romantic suspense’ because it doesn’t really fit either.  If it’s a mystery, it’s very simplistic and quite clumsily done; if romantic suspense, there’s pretty much no romance and not much suspense, so that doesn’t fit either.  The writing is generally solid, although there is a LOT of telling rather than showing, and this is especially evident in the way we’re shown Kellen’s supposedly unique mental ability working.  Whenever she meets someone, we get a ‘note card’ of what is supposedly going through her head, which lists background data on that person and her feelings about them  – which is, I suppose, an easier way of disseminating that information than actually spending time on developing that character and letting the reader get to know them; it smacks of lazy writing.

In short, Dead Girl Running is deader than a dead duck dead in the water.  Give it a miss and pick up something by Rachel Grant or Loreth Anne White instead.

Never Dare a Wicked Earl (Infamous Lords #1) by Renee Ann Miller

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Known as a brazen philanderer, Hayden Milton, Earl of Westfield, is almost done in by a vengeful mistress who aims a gun at a rather essential part of his anatomy—but ends up wounding his thigh instead. Recuperating in his London town house, Hayden is confronted by his new medical attendant. Sophia Camden intrigues him, for behind her starched uniform is an enticing beauty better suited for bedding than dispensing salves and changing bandages.

Unshaken by his arrogance, not to mention impropriety, Sophia offers Hayden a dare: allow her ten days to prove her competency. If she resigns in exasperation like her two predecessors, she will be beholden to this wicked seducer. As a battle of wills begins, Sophia finds herself distracted by the Earl’s muscular physique . . . and discovers that the man within longs only for a second chance to love.

Rating: D+

As I’ve said in the past, I make it a point to try new authors when I can – after all, I had some pretty good luck a couple of years back when I found not one, but three début authors whose books have since become ‘must reads’, and I live in hope of finding others.  Unfortunately, however, on the strength of her first novel, Never Dare a Wicked Earl, Renee Ann Miller isn’t going to make that list by a long chalk; the cover trumpets a “fresh new romance” – but it’s about as fresh as week-old kippers, and I ended up reading a story I’ve read several times before.   It’s a solidly average book; not badly written, but the story is hackneyed, the characters are stereotypical and the author seems to have thought it a good ideal to throw the kitchen sink into the (very weak) plot.   Plus – what on earth is the heroine wearing on the cover?  The book is set in 1875, and by no stretch of the imagination is that dress from the late Victorian period.  I know that’s not the author’s fault, but it nonetheless telegraphs “Danger, Will Robinson!” to the potential reader.  With good reason, as it turns out.

When Hayden – a very unlikely name for a man (let alone an earl) in Victorian England – Earl of Westfield is shot in the leg by a demented ex-mistress, he is confined to bed and not at all happy about it.  He runs off two male attendants by virtue of his appalling manners and threatening  behaviour, so his sister, thinking he might not be quite so rude and abrasive towards a woman, engages a nurse by the name of Sophia Camden.  Of course, the fact that Sophia is female makes no difference to Hayden’s dreadful behaviour, and he begins to try to get rid of her, too, adding not-so-subtle sexual innuendo to his established repertoire of bad manners and ill temper.

Naturally, Sophia is wise to his tricks, and decided to stay, especially as – and here’s where we get lip-service to the title – Hayden dares Sophia to stick it out for ten days.  If she wins, he will throw his political weight behind a new bill to allow women to qualify as doctors (as this is what Sophia wants to do) and if he wins he’ll get… well, he’ll think about that tomorrow.

Okay – this is a romance, we know where things are headed and that whole wounded-rude-hero-with-a-damaged-psyche falls for well-bred-female-fallen-on-hard-times thing is one we’ve all read lots (and lots) of times before.  Hayden and Sophia banter.  They ogle each other.  He squirms in his seat a lot, she gets warm and tingly – from pretty much the first chapter.  We get it.  He’s hot and she’s beautiful.  How about giving them some personality outside of his constant feelings of guilt and  inadequacy over the way he treated his first wife, and her insecurities because her uncle continually taunted her over her dusky, Mediterranean skin (she has Italian ancestry), calling it inferior and vulgar compared to the creamy complexion of the traditionally English rose?

To add insult to injury (!), Sophia – supposedly a strong, intelligent, professional woman who is determined to enter a profession previously dominated by men – is a mess of breathless, quivering lust and tears around Hayden and doesn’t really do anything for him that his valet or servants can’t do.  She brings him his meals on a tray, his valet bathes him and she doesn’t go near a bedpan or chamber pot.  Other than putting on a bandage or two, she does nothing ‘medical’ for him whatsoever.  Yet she wants to become a doctor because of the oldest cliché in the book:

… everyone she’d loved had died and perhaps if she became a doctor, she could stop others from losing those most important to them…

Gimme a break.

The kitchen sink I mentioned is thrown into the second half of the book with gusto, when we are treated to ALL THE DRAMA – kidnapping, attempted rape, attempted murder – you name it, it’s in there, all courtesy of a villain whose identity is blindingly obvious from the start.  There’s a heartbreaking and potentially interesting backstory to Hayden’s first marriage, but it’s little more than an obvious attempt to introduce more drama into the story and its treatment lacks subtlety.

So my search for GOOD new authors continues.  I’ll let you know when I find one.

Redeeming the Roguish Rake by Liz Tyner

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The scoundrel of Society
…has compromised the Vicar’s daughter!

When scandalous Fenton Foxworthy is beaten and left for dead, he’s rescued by demure vicar’s daughter Rebecca Whitelow. Fox is a cynical rake whose outrageous propositions are the talk of the ton—but his injuries are so great that Rebecca mistakes him for the new village Vicar! Too late, Rebecca realises her error…she’s been compromised into a hasty marriage!

Rating: D+

Liz Tyner’s Redeeming the Roguish Rake treads the well-worn path of rakish hero redeemed by love – in this case, the love of a vicar’s daughter.  It’s a trope I generally enjoy, as it’s always fun to watch the world-weary hero falling head-over-heels for the last woman he’d ever have expected to fall for, and the proper young lady entertaining improper thoughts about a man she should, by rights, despise.  The book gets off to a strong start when our hero, Fenton Foxworthy, a devil-may-care young man who has a smirk and a glib remark for everyone and a penchant for proposing to other men’s wives, is beaten up and left for dead while on a journey into the country to visit his father.  Luckily for him, he is found by the daughter of the local vicar who arranges for him to be taken to the vicarage where she can tend him.

Fox’s injuries are serious.  The author never goes into specific detail, other than to tell us that his face has been particularly badly beaten, to such an extent that when he initially recovers consciousness, it’s difficult for him to speak because his jaw is so painful.  His inability to tell the vicar and his daughter who he is leads to a misapprehension when they assume Fox must be the new vicar who is coming to take over the parish at the behest of the earl (Fox’s father).  The Reverend Whitelow is advancing in years and is being encouraged to take a pension, and knowing that a younger man is coming to replace him, has hopes that the new vicar will marry Rebecca and ensure her future comfort and safety.

It’s some time before Fox can speak, and the author instead treats us to his inner monologue, which is often quite funny, as he listens to the vicar and Rebecca completely misconstruing his attempts at communication.  In the end, he decides to give up and go along with their supposition that he’s a vicar – they’ll find out the truth soon enough and he’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it.

Fox gradually regains his speech, although to start with it’s hesitant and painful.  The author nicely develops the growing relationship between him and Rebecca as Fox realises that the vicar’s daughter he’d thought rather plain is not plain at all, and finds himself drawn to her goodness.  Rebecca – who had been rather resigned to marrying the ‘new vicar’ – discovers that she actually likes him and, in spite of his lumpy, bruised face, that she finds him quite attractive.  Things come to a head when Rebecca’s father finds them embracing each other – at which point Fox does the honourable thing and proposes – for the first time in his life, to a woman who is actually free to marry him.

This happens at around a quarter of the way through the book, but after this things go off the rails.  Rebecca discovers Fox’s identity shortly afterwards when his father comes looking for the ‘imposter’ who is passing himself off as the new vicar.  Naturally she and her father are horrified and she tries to cry off, but for some reason I couldn’t quite fathom, Fox insists he wants to go ahead with the marriage.  His father is delighted – he’s long been worried about his wastrel son and on at him to settle down; having known Rebecca since she was a child, he believes her steadying influence is just what Fox needs and is pleased with his choice, in spite of their difference in social station.

Rebecca’s father, however, is not at all happy at the thought of handing his daughter over to a man whose name is always in the newspapers thanks to some exploit or other and tries to dissuade her.  But Rebecca believes – I’m not quite sure why, but she seems to take an offhand comment by the earl to mean he’ll throw her father out otherwise –  that marrying Fox will mean she can ensure that her father will always have a roof over his head, and so, she agrees to the marriage.

From here on in, I couldn’t work out what characters motivations were or what was happening between them.  It’s clear that Rebecca is uncomfortable with her new station, worries she doesn’t fit in and doesn’t like having nothing to do all day.  Her life as a vicar’s daughter saw her constantly on the go, visiting parishioners, caring for the sick, helping her father – and now she is at a loose end. Fox seems annoyed at her for being worried, but is more intent on finding the men who attacked him and exacting revenge – something he is also aware his new wife is not in favour of. Fox’s sense of self-worth seems very much bound up in his looks; his parents are estranged and live separately; he lost his older sister to childbirth a few years back and it seems the family has not recovered from it … there are interesting plot points thrown in, but there is little or no explanation as to how these relate to the story being told or its characters.  I don’t like being hit over the head with information, but similarly, I don’t like allusions so vague that trying to work out where and how they fit takes me completely out of the story, which happened frequently.  Fox and Rebecca have these odd, roundabout conversations that don’t make sense – they never seem to say anything directly about how they feel, and it’s not until quite late on that Fox realises Rebecca is really quite unwell and takes her back to the country to stay with her father, while he visits the earl and rides over to the vicarage to spend his days with his wife.  The story starts to make more sense at this point, but we’re almost at the end, and the ILYs which are exchanged just before that come out of nowhere and feel as though the author had suddenly realised she needed to put them in somewhere before writing ‘The End’.

I also couldn’t get much of a handle on the characters.  Fox is perhaps the better defined of the two, but Rebecca is mostly an enigma and I just couldn’t warm to her.  She’s rather starchy and prim, with nothing much, other than a dedication to duty, to recommend her.  She doesn’t seem to have a sense of humour – which is a huge problem given that Fox is the sort of man with a quip for every occasion and who enjoys a good laugh – and all she seems to do is mope in silence.  There’s no chemistry between them, and given they are so severely mis-matched, their HEA is unbelievable.

In general, I’m a fan of Mills & Boon/Harlequin Historicals and have read and reviewed a number of very good ones over the past few years.  But one has to take the rough with the smooth, and I’m afraid Redeeming the Roguish Rake definitely falls into the ‘rough’ category.

To the Duke With Love (Rakes of St. James #2) by Amelia Grey

This book may be purchased from Amazon

Sloane Knox, the Duke of Hawksthorn is guardian for his sweet, younger sister. Due to his misguided past as one of the infamous Rakes of St James, Hawk is hoping to avoid the Season by securing a match for her before it begins. He has the perfect gentleman in mind, but for one infuriating—and unexpectedly intoxicating—obstacle: the intended groom’s own sister, Miss Loretta Quick.

Having narrowly avoided her own arranged marriage to an unacceptable nobleman, Loretta is determined that her dear brother—a gentle, good-natured soul—should marry for love. Matching wits with Hawk may be her greatest challenge yet. . .until she realizes it may also be her greatest pleasure. For the young duke’s irresistible charm has not only begun to crumble her stubborn resolve, it has claimed her heart in true love as well…

Rating: D

To the Duke, With Love is the second book in Amelia Grey’s Rakes of St. James series and is both my first – and probably last – book by this author.  This is wallpaper historical romance by numbers, and I suppose the alarm bells should really have started ringing when I realised that the hero – who is an English duke – is named Sloane.  Which is such a common name for an English gentleman of the nineteenth century. (Not.)

So, here’s what we’ve got.  Sloane Knox, the Duke of Hawksthorn, wants to arrange a suitable match for his younger sister Adele before she makes her début, because a decade ago, he and two of his friends played a prank on that year’s crop of debutantes and now he fears someone will use Adele in order to exact retribution.  Hawk believes he has found the perfect mate for Adele in one Mr. Paxton Quick, a young, handsome and good-natured gentleman who lives … somewhere unspecified but far from London with his older sister, Loretta.  Hawk has reached this conclusion because he has never seen Quick:

“… too deep in his cups, and he never gambles more than a handful of DOLLARS at the table.”

Well, I’m not surprised at that last bit, because how could he?  Last time I checked, in England we use ENGLISH currency, strange as that may seem.

Hawk travels to Mammoth House in… some remote location, in order to discuss the match with Quick, only to discover that he is from home, and finds himself confronting the rather scrumptious, somewhat challenging Miss Quick instead.  And so begins the mental lusting. At the ONE PERCENT mark on my Kindle:

She looked pure, sweet, and completely untouched by masculine hands.  A sudden, deep rush of desire flamed through him, and the rhythm of his heartbeat changed.

By the end of the first chapter Hawk:

… wanted her with an intensity that he hadn’t felt in a very long time.

And in the next, we’re told our heroine is all a quiver because she:

… still wasn’t sure what to make of the new, startling, and unexplained feelings that had swept over her at the sight of him.  She wasn’t out of breath, yet she was breathless. She wasn’t dizzy, yet she felt light-headed. She wasn’t hungry, yet looking at him caused a ravenous appetite to rise up within her.”

For god’s sake, someone get the woman a sandwich!

In a nutshell, the plot revolves around the fact that Loretta doesn’t want her brother to be forced or coerced into a marriage against his will, as almost happened to her when their uncle and guardian arranged for her to marry someone she didn’t love.  Said uncle, the Earl of Switchingham, was – not surprisingly – somewhat miffed when Loretta didn’t turn up at the wedding, and banished her to the somewhat ramshackle Mammoth House in the back of beyond – but not before he’d forced her to make a holy vow – in church – never to marry.  The banishment wasn’t extended to her brother, although he loyally opted to make his home with Loretta, but Quick travels to London frequently – which is how Hawk knows him – and Loretta lives quietly, accepting her exclusion from society even as she regrets missing out on the sort of life she could – and should – have had.

That is basically it.  Hawk and Loretta butt heads (and other body parts, eventually) in a lot of exchanges that are lacking in either humour or wit, and there is hardly any chemistry between them whatsoever.  She’s beautiful and stands up to him, he’s handsome and likes that she challenges him and they each fancy what they see, but there’s nothing beyond the insta-lust, and I couldn’t understand what either of them saw in the other beyond outward appearances.  And then there’s the dialogue in the love scenes, which made me cringe:

On sweeping Loretta into his arms (in chapter four, no less) Hawk asks her of her former suitor:

“Did he hold you possessively like this and make you feel as if you were someone too precious to let go?”

“Did his lips hover longingly just above yours as mine are now, just waiting for you to invite him to take a taste of you?”

Did I just laugh my head off at such terrible pick-up lines?

The author attempts to inject some drama into the story by means of a sub-plot featuring a boy from the streets named Farley, whom we first meet when he knocks at the door of Loretta’s house begging for scraps – but quite honestly, I’m not sure what the point of it was, unless it was to show that lepoards rarely change their spots.  And I almost hurt my head with all the eyerolling at Loretta’s insistence on keeping to her vow of chastity – and later the manner in which Hawk comes up with a way round it so they can get married and live happily ever after.  Paxton is bland, Adele is a ninny…  and the whole book was an utter slog from start to finish.

Readers, here’s something to YOU, with love.  If you want an entertaining read, take my word for it when I tell you that this isn’t it.  There are plenty of GOOD books out there for you to read, and I humbly suggest you pick up one of those instead.

The Chase (Brides of Beadwell #3) by Sara Portman

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

According to his father’s terms, Michael Rosevear’s duty is to be ignored–until such time as he is useful. Now that the earldom is in need of funds, Michael is to be sold off in marriage to the daughter of a crass but wealthy merchant willing to pay for any connection to nobility–even one from the wrong side of the blanket . . .

En route to his fate in London, Michael does not plan to board an extra passenger. Yet there is something in the young miss’s desperate plea that tugs at his conscience–though he is certain her story is a fabrication . . .

Juliana Crawford has fled her father’s cruel home. Using a false name to evade pursuit, she must find a private traveler with whom to complete her escape. Chance matches her with a dark and wounded young lord who guards his own secrets just as carefully. The unlikely pair embark on a journey filled with revelations and unexpected adventure–one that may lead them to question whether to part at their destination–or change course entirely. . .

Rating: D

When one reads a lot of books, one learns to take book blurbs with a pinch of salt.  Those that give a basic outline of the plot are fine, but those that proudly proclaim how ‘exciting’, or ‘unforgettable’ or ‘unique’ a story is always see me raising a sceptical eyebrow and thinking, ‘yeah, right.’  Or wrong.  As is the case here.  The cover copy of new-to-me author Sara Portman’s The Chase promised a ‘thrilling romance’, but I think whoever wrote that must have lost their dictionary, or got hold of one in which the definition of ‘thrilling’ was ‘the feeling one experiences when watching paint dry.’ Because there is nothing remotely thrilling about a story featuring quite possibly the wettest, wimpiest, weepiest heroine I’ve think I’ve ever read, who is completely dependent on the hero to get her out of every single difficulty she faces.

Miss Juliana Crawford has spent all of her adult life acting as her father’s skivvy.  Hers has been a very lonely life, but throughout it all, she has had one thing to look forward to; the small inheritance that will become hers on her twenty-fifth birthday.  She knows her cruel, cold father will never allow her to receive it, so for years, she has hoarded every penny she can in order to buy herself a ticket that will take her away from her home village of Beadwell in Derbyshire.  She can’t afford to purchase a ticket to take her to London, (where she plans to visit the family solicitor to claim her inheritance) but hopes instead to be able to inspire the kindness of a random traveller to take her there.  Juliana has lived a very sheltered life, but I’d have thought her father’s example of bad-tempered selfishness would have been sufficient to tell her that relying on the kindness and good intentions of others is not really the way to go.

Anyway. Watching the various arrivals at the Bear & Boar coaching inn in Peckingham, Juliana surveys the available prospects (a large family, a mother and son) and in the end, approaches a well-to-do gentlemen who is travelling in a smart carriage with a coat of arms on the door, and asks if he will convey her to London.  The man is very surprised at her making such a request of a stranger, and warns her that her reputation will be ruined if she is known to have travelled with a man without a chaperone; Juliana insists she is not worried about it, and the man allows her to enter his carriage.

Michael Rosevear is the bastard son of the Marquess of Rosevear (and yes, the names and titles in this story are all over the place) and is on his way from his Yorkshire home to his father’s house in London.  He’s not best pleased at having to make the trip, but is determined this is the last time he will dance to his father’s tune.  All his life, the marquess has treated Michael as someone to be used when needed and shoved aside when not, and he has had enough of it.  He knows he is expected to marry a wealthy tradesman’s daughter in order to bring her money into the family, and he’s prepared to do it in exchange for his father turning Rose Hall in Yorkshire over to him.  He is frustrated and annoyed; and decides that if nothing else, the strange young woman who has asked him to take her to London will provide some diversion on the rest of the trip.

Alas, this is not to be.  His companion is taciturn and evasive; even though she is clearly frightened of something or someone, she refuses to tell him what it is which frustrates him – and bugged the hell out of me – no end.  Yet Michael’s protective streak is roused full force; his companion is an odd mixture of timid and fearless (so he thinks; I never saw anything to suggest the fearless part) and he is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding her.

We all know where this is going; the problem is that the way it gets there is so unengaging.  With the exception of Michael’s precocious younger brother and his step-mother, the characters are bland, the writing is wooden and the deus-ex-machina employed towards the end made me roll my eyes so hard they hurt.

Michael’s situation as the bastard son of a peer is an interesting one, and had that been more fully explored, I suspect it could have added some badly needed appeal to the story.  By focusing on the wimpy Juliana, who is easily one of the dullest, least relatable heroines I’ve ever come across, we’re dragged instead in to a vat of insipidity; the woman doesn’t even know how to hail a cab, and is too stupid to understand how to do such a simple thing as raise her hand, because someone else has to show her how to do it!

There’s no character development and no romantic development; the first kiss happens with almost no build up, and the book’s two love scenes are uninspiring and devoid of any sexual tension.  Not only am I disputing the word ‘thrilling’ in the blurb, I’m calling into question the word ‘romance’.  I read an advance copy in which I spotted a number of typos, incorrect word choices, inconsistencies and sudden PoV switches, which I hope may be fixed at the copy-editing stage. Quite honestly though, even if that happens, it’s not going to turn this poor effort into something worth your time and money.

The Royal Conquest (Scandalous House of Calydon #4) by Stacy Reid (audiobook) – Narrated by Anna Parker Naples

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

After being cruelly jilted by a lord who claimed to adore her, Miss Payton Peppiwell swore her future husband would be as ordinary as she. Now if only her family would listen to her. Then she meets Mikhail Konstantinovich, an untitled horse breeder, in a highly improper and scandalous encounter. Never had Payton expected to be so attracted to the dark, intriguing man, who seduces her to recklessness with a mere stare.

Mikhail abhors anything to do with intimacy. Yet Miss Peppiwell stirs hunger and a need long forgotten in him. But Mikhail has a dark past-one that means his lust must be sated in a way entirely unsuitable for a lady. But his biggest secret will be the hardest for Payton to overcome: Mikhail is not only titled, he’s a prince…

 

Rating: Narration – D- Content – D

 

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that Stacy Reid’s The Royal Conquest is far and away the front runner for the title of “Worst Audiobook I Have Listened to This Year”. I’ve listened to mediocre stories performed by excellent narrators and excellent stories ruined by poor narrators, but this one has it all – a mediocre story performed by an inept narrator. It rarely gets worse than this.

But such is the reviewer’s lot. Sometimes when looking for titles to review, I think – “oh, I’ve not listened to that author/narrator before, so let’s give it a go”, and sometimes I’m lucky – like when I thought “oh yes, Alex Wyndham – I’ve seen him on the telly, so let’s see what he does with an audiobook” – and sometimes I’m not. This is one of those times.

Normally when I write a review of an audiobook, I spend a bit of time talking about the plot and characterisation and leave the discussion of the narration until the end. This time, however, I am going to reverse that, because even if this book had been the best ever written – and that isn’t the case by a long chalk, I assure you – the narration is so dreadful it would have rendered it completely un-listenable-to. (I may have made that term up – put it down to my still being traumatised!)

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.